State v. Hala

State v. Hala, 2015 MT 300 (Oct. 20, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether a blood test drawn more than eight hours after the act of driving was taken within a reasonable time under the circumstances; and (2) whether the district court erred by holding certain evidence was admissible under the inevitable discovery rule when the state made that argument for the first time at the suppression hearing.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) the Court declines to reach this issue after affirming on the first issue.

Affirmed

Facts: Hala’s truck drifted off the road and crashed early one morning in November 2013. Because he was injured and could not call for assistance, the accident went unreported until about 5 am. A Highway Patrol officer arrived around 6:30 a.m., as did emergency personnel, and Hala was transported to the hospital via ambulance. His blood was drawn at 6:45 a.m., and the plasma BAC was .17 (which converts to about .14 whole blood BAC). A second blood test at 8:30 am indicated a whole blood BAC of .122. Hala verbally agreed to release the 6:45 am results to the investigating officer, but did not sign a release. Hala was life-flighted to Billings due to his neck injuries.

Hala was charged with DUI per se and found guilty following a bench trial in justice court. He appealed to the district court and moved to suppress the results of both the 6:45 am and 8:30 am blood tests. He argued that 8:30 am test was not taken within a reasonable time in violation of § 61-8-401(4), MCA, and the 6:45 am test should be suppressed because the release to the officer violated HIPAA.

Procedural Posture & Holding: After holding a hearing, the district court denied Hala’s motion to suppress. It found the 8:30 am test was taken within a reasonable time and that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether the release of the 6:45 am test violated HIPAA, concluding any defect in the authorization was harmless error under the inevitable discovery doctrine. Hala entered a guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. He appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The DUI statute allows for certain evidentiary inferences to be made from a BAC “taken within a reasonable time after the alleged act” of driving. The DUI per se statute, in contrast, refers only to a person’s BAC while driving. The Court in McGwoan interpreted the DUI per se statute as allowing the admissibility of BAC results administered within a reasonable time after driving, making it unnecessary to prove the defendant’s BAC through “retrograde extrapolation evidence.” Based on the facts here, the Court concludes the 8:30 a.m. test was taken within a reasonable time.

(2) Because the Court affirms the first issue, it declines to reach the second one.